First and Second Halves of Life, Part I

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 6

First and Second Halves of Life, Part I
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Merton’s best-selling early autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, published in 1948, is a first half of life statement and a classic, which has never gone out of print.

The following poem, “When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple,” [1] written by Merton ten years later in 1958, shows all the signs of a man in an early second half of life, although he was only in his mid-forties. The freedom illustrated here might be exactly where your spiritual journey is going to lead you. I hope so.

This poem has spoken to me from the first time I read it in Merton’s hermitage in 1985. I offer it to you as a simple meditation that you can return to again and again to summarize where this journey leads us.  Today we will focus on the first half of the poem, with my commentary in italics.

When in the soul of the serene disciple

At the soul level, and with the peacefulness of time

With no more Fathers to imitate

When you have moved beyond the “authoritative,” the collective, and the imitative, and you have to be your True Self

Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

When you have made it all the way to the bottom of who you think you are, or need to be, when your humiliating shadow work never stops, and when your securities and protective boundaries mean less and less, and your “salvation project” has failed you

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin,
Saints depart in several directions.

When you have faced the hurt and the immense self-doubt brought on by good people, family, and even friends who do not understand you, who criticize you, or even delight in your wrongness

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.

The inner life of quiet, solitude, and contemplation is the only way to find your ground and purpose now. Go nowhere else for sustenance.

Gateway to Silence:
“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time.”  —Thomas Merton

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Collected Poems (New Directions: 1977), 279f.
[2] Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011), 162-164.

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